Field of Science

Dealing with ecological rejection

I firmly believe in sabbatical leaves, and it is my great good fortune to have been allowed to take four of them. The academic world of science is difficult and it takes a concerted effort to try or explore new things, to learn new areas of science, and while taking a break from the week to week routine. As this is being written my fourth and last sabbatical leave is winding to a close. I'm taking a week to visit friends, a week to attend national scientific meetings, and that leaves two weeks to prepare for classes. Already I have people clamoring for a laboratory guide.

As part of this leave's exploration into new topics, I collaborated with an old friend and colleague. I dragged him to the rain forest to study insects that consume flowers, but aren't involved in pollination (my usual tropical topic). These insects had never been studied before, and in fact no one even knew these flowers were their brood substrate, or that they had two broods, a smaller one that produced bigger adults, and a larger one that produced smaller adults, or that they had a female biased population, and a number of other things. And we had fun doing it.

Oh, but science isn't science until its published, and our manuscript was just rejected. And the reason was it was too much natural history and not enough ecology. This means we didn't conduct an experiment aimed at determining some ecological principle, but just figured out a previously unknown biology. In the eyes of ecological snobs, ecological studies trump natural history. But ecological study is impossible until you know enough about the system to manipulate it.

Ecology is coming of age. It's getting snobby. Long treated as an inferior, less than demanding, descriptive field of science, barely divorced from Victorian natural history, ecology is now asserting itself by dumping on the very field that gave rise to ecology. This is because biology is done by people, and many people have need of a pecking order and having someone lower down to peck at to feel good about themselves. And this is nothing but someone inforcing their personal belief that ecology, as they define it, is better, more important, higher quality science than natural history.

Fortunately I know how to deal with such rejection. My lapsed membership in the organization will now be on permanent hold. Another publishing venue will be found, and our natural history will become part of biological knowledge, and then some stinking ecologist will use our study to do some "real science" that can get published in a top ranked journal, well, top ranked for ecology.